5.01 Goethe 1830

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italiänische Reise, II, Neapel, Stuttgart and Tübingen 1830

Fa 200-4300/2 raro III

Goethe was no friend of volcanoes. As a convinced Neptunist, who basically regarded geological formations as oceanic sediments, he harboured an almost moral aversion to the volcanic formations produced in violent eruptions (“frightful and shapeless conglomeration of matter, which, moreover, is continually preying on itself, and proclaiming war against every idea of the beautiful” p. 28). Nevertheless, he was magically attracted to Vesuvius, which had just erupted during his trip to Italy. At the end of February 1817, he visited the Phlegraean Fields as a preliminary exercise (“devastated and unpleasant, (…) bare, disgusting spaces” p. 20), in order to then “recognize” Vesuvius (22). He had to turn back the first time because of thick smoke, but three days later he reached the edge of the crater: “The view was neither instructive nor delightful” (30). Although almost killed by falling lava, he undertook a third ascent on 20 March, to which we owe one of the most vivid descriptions of lava flows (63f.), from whose smoking embers he almost died: “The guide, who was a few steps in advance of me (…) seizing hold of me, hurried out of this Stygian exhalation” (65). The copy of 1830 in the exhibition is taken from the Vollständigen Ausgabe letzter Hand (latest complete edition) edited by Goethe, through which the Italian Journey (first published in 1817) was first widely distributed. [GM]

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